For all its idiosyncratic brilliance, Hyrule Warriors – the first time that Nintendo loaned its characters and mythology to Koei Tecmo in return for a fidgety battlefield opus (this time dressed in felt green) – was an untidy marriage. On home turf, Link is a solitary warrior-errand boy. He typically works alone, and never at the head of a battalion of devoted footsoldiers. By contrast the “musou” genre (roughly and boastfully translated as “un-paralleled”) is an impressionistic take on the chaotic medieval mêlée. Nervously shuffling anonymous squaddies crowd the battlefields of these games, ranks through which you and your comrades spin and splice in weaponised pirouettes. Link is no stranger to the 360-degree sword swipe. But, thematically speaking, he’s more apt to use it to chop the heads off daisies than murder a mob of military men.
With its feudal arenas, martial structures and panoramic cast of comrades, Fire Emblem, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems’ foundational strategy series, is a more natural fit for musou’s inflexible template. While, in the hands there may be few similarities between Fire Emblem’s traditional mode – designed for sofa-bound generals, who may ponder and prod manoeuvres with an unhurried finger – and musou’s frantic, urgent pad-mashing, there is symmetry here. The musou games are built for the officer classes, not privates: focus solely on sword-to-sword combat without a crow’s eye perspective and you’ll soon lose.
As in traditional Fire Emblem games, battles are won through strategic planning and reaction. Likewise, while there are bright stars within Fire Emblem’s constellation of protagonists, none are as indispensible like Link (in fact, as any Fire Emblem veteran will tell you, the fact that your officers can be irrevocably lost in battle, without bringing the war or plot to an end is part of the series’ essence.) Immediately, then, Fire Emblem Warriors feels like a more harmonious proposition than Hyrule Warriors. Moreover, while its systems invigorate the Musou outline in ways that often exceed the genre’s precursors.